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James Lethbridge Templer

James Lethbridge Templer (1811-1845) came to Australia around 1839 after leaving  the East India Company. Templer entered the company as a Midshipman in 1828,  becoming a ‘Sworn Officer’ in 1832. He died tragically in 1845 at the age of 33 when ‘returning from  Richmond, was dashed by his horse  against a tree, and killed in the full vigour of manhood and health’

James was a prolific poet.

James was famous for his sketches of early Australia

Sketch by James Lethbridge Templer. Courtesy of the Mitchell Library, Sydney.

This sketch was made in June 1839, a month before St Stephen's Church was  officially consecrated. St Stephen’s, featured prominently in the sketch, had only just been completed. This rare drawing is one of a series of sketches made in 1839 by James Lethbridge Templer.

He often sketched horses

Beagle, an Australian bred horse by Skeleton, the property of Capt. P.P. King, R.N., 1839 by James Lethbridge Templer (original is held by the State Library of New South Wales)

Extracts from the preface to poems of James Lethbridge Templer
written by his brother John Charles Templer 1872

James Lethbridge Templer, the eldest of 13 children of James Templer and Catherine, his wife, was born at Bridport on the 9th November 1811. His father was the fourth son of Thomas Templer, who possessed considerable landed Estates near Exeter.

At six years old he was sent to a little Grammar School at Charmouth. In his 10th year he was placed at the Charterhouse, then under the headmastership of Dr Russell and here he remained until he has completed his 15th year.

In 1828 he entered maritime service of the East India Company, as a midshipman on board the 'Castle Huntley'. He returned from his first voyage in June 1829 and spent some months at his home at Bridport.

In March 1830 he again sailed, at the age of 18, as 5th officer in the 'Castle Huntley' and he met and formed a friendship with Mr Brooke, afterwards Rajah Brooke who became so distinguished for is enterprise in Borneo, returning in March 1831. In March 1832 he sailed as 4th Officer on the 'Charles Grant' for Madras, Bengal and China.

In May 1833 he sailed for China as third officer of the 'Minerva', his uncle Captain Henry Templer being the owner. In this year the East India Company charter expired and was not renewed and in this year he became the Commander of the 'Minerva' sailing in his 24th year, in 1835 for China. His friend Brooke went the round of this voyage with him, simply for companionship.

In July 1836 he sailed with Brooke for a year's cruise in the Aegean in Brook' yatch, the 'Royalist'.

 At Christmas 1837 he took his passage in the 'Inglis', another of his uncle's ship, with the intention of trading in India and China. Finding no inducement to trade, in November 1838 he visited Manila and returning to China took passage to Australia and reach Sydney in May 1839 and announced his intention of settling permanently there.

 And in 1841 he took Erskine Park, near Parramatta and commenced as a stock farmer. He spent much time with his Uncle and Aunt (Harriet), Admiral and Mrs King, the youngest sister of his mother, who lived at Trahlee.

Sketcher, poet, maritime officer and farmer, was born on 9 November 1811 in Bridport, Dorsetshire, eldest of the thirteen children of James Templer and Catherine, née Lethbridge. Educated at a grammar school at Charmouth then at Charterhouse, at the age of fifteen he entered the maritime service of the East India Company. He was rapidly promoted and by 1835 was sailing for China as commander of his uncle's ship, the Minerva. On his return the following year, however, he resigned his command and began trading in the East. This was unsuccessful and he left China for New South Wales, arriving at Sydney in 1839.

A prolific artist, Templer filled many sketchbooks in his lifetime. The Mitchell Library holds a copy of an Australian sketchbook (owned by descendants in England) depicting places with which the artist was most intimate, especially the landscape and buildings of the Penrith area where Templer's uncle, Robert Copland Lethbridge, had settled. Other works show the Port Stephens area where Templer stayed with another uncle, Phillip Parker King of the Australian Agricultural Company.

Templer had been given painting lessons by his mother at an early age and coastal profiles and precise topographical works in his sketchbooks indicate that he was also trained in naval draughtsmanship. He was an admirer of Conrad Martens, whom he had met in Sydney in 1839, and made several copies of Martens's work, both after originals and from P.P. King's copies at Port Stephens. At times he wrote disparagingly of his artistic efforts, but he was a competent painter of landscape, animal and genre scenes. He was said to possess 'an absolute passion for the horse and hound' and his album contains some especially lively drawings of its colonial equivalent, the kangaroo hunt, in which Templer was an enthusiastic and regular participant. He had a keen appreciation of horseflesh and his journal documents his efforts to paint various horses from the stables of the Australian Agricultural Company for his 'Uncle King'. A finished watercolour of Beagle, an Australian Bred Horse, by Skelton, the Property of Captain P.P. King, R.N., dated December 1839, is held by the Mitchell Library together with other watercolour portraits of horses, all drawn in a careful, rather naive style.

In 1840 Templer decided to pursue a career as a cattle and horse-breeder at Erskine Park, Parramatta. His poems, some dating from his youth, were privately published in London in 1872 by his brother, John Charles Templer. They include the song 'Indemnity Gipps', written at Erskine Park in July 1844 as a satire on Governor Gipps whose Whiggish policies Templer vigorously opposed. A poem about his bay pony Wilhelmine, who kept him company 'through the wild lonely bush, as I ride round my cattle' is illustrated by a photograph of his watercolour of the horse. A rhyming letter of December 1844 on the merits of bulls is accompanied by a photograph of Templer's watercolour of his bull Rajah posed in front of the Erskine Park homestead.

 On the 14th August 1845, returning from a picnic, he was dashed against a tree by a four year old horse he had bred and was breaking, and was found next day with his temple broken inwards on his brain. He was buried, three days later in the King's Vault at South Creek, (now St Mary's) near Paramatta, in his 34th year. He was unmarried.

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Poems by James Lethbridge Templer